In the 90s the IRS was after 70s celebrity guru Werner Erhard for unpaid taxes, but now it’s apparently giving him money. That is, by paying for the so-called seminar “technology,” which he licenses. Erhard, whose devoted following once included singer John Denver and sit-com star Valerie Harper, now seems to have a new fan, Uncle Sam.
According to sources in Seattle, Washington IRS employees are gulping down more than coffee these days. The latest brew consumed at IRS is Erhard’s seminar training, once called “EST” and now known as Landmark Education. But unlike some concoction from Starbucks, taxpayers have apparently picked up the tab for the Landmark Forum.
High-ranking staffers at the Taxpayer Advocate’s office in Seattle took Landmark’s multi-day large group awareness marathon called the “Forum,” and billed Uncle Sam. Then they began pushing the program to subordinates, claiming that the government would pay for the course. The Landmark Forum costs $375.00 per person. But individual courses go up to $3,000 a pop, according to Landmark’s website.
Werner Erhard, EST and Landmark Education have a history of lawsuits and bad press. Some past participants have compared Forum seminars to “brainwashing” and characterized Landmark as somewhat “cult-like.”
Complaints caused the Treasury Inspector General to look into this matter. But that investigation didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm at the Taxpayer Advocate’s office. Senior staffers kept touting the program and still claimed that the government would pay, according to sources in Seattle. Could Werner Erhard who was once on IRS’s wanted list, now benefit from its payment plan?
Government officials in Seattle and Washington D.C. directly involved and reached personally by phone refused to comment.
Art Schreiber, Landmark’s general counsel stated, “IRS contacted our Seattle Center to find out about our programs.” And David Peterson, Manager of that center said he is well acquainted with Seattle IRS Taxpayer Advocate Ms. Jean Beck. Mark Kamin, Landmark’s Director for Media Relations confirmed that Ms. Beck completed the Landmark Forum, but insists they did not receive a check or voucher from the IRS and that to his knowledge, a reimbursement did not happen.
Why did IRS contact Landmark about its programs? Perhaps the government agency is hoping to stimulate its subculture through an old guru’s philosophy. But should they do this at the taxpayer’s expense?